Examiner’s Report Recommends Approval of New Housing Sites

The revised Joint Henley & Harpsden Neighbourhood Plan has been reviewed by an independent examiner, Andrew Ashcroft who has reviewed the revised policies and housing sites therein.

A public hearing took place at Henley Town Hall last month (August) to review the proposed further development at Highlands Farm (Northern Field) after a strong objection was made by the Chiltern Conservation Board against development in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (ANOB).  The new Highlands Farm site would include 110 new homes (40% affordable),  1 hectare of employment land,  publicly accessible open space,  the relocation of the Chilterns Centre, the provision of community led housing; and the relocation and redesign of the community centre and the employment facilities from existing allocation at Highlands Farm.

In this report Andrew Ashcroft said that Henley Town Council’s “work undertaken was both comprehensive in terms of its scope and detailed in terms of the analysis undertaken” on selecting the housing sites.

He went on to say, “I have considered this matter very carefully. On the balance of the evidence, including the discussion at the hearing, I am satisfied that HTC has properly assessed the impact of the allocation of the site on the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and that the matter was fully addressed in the Environmental Report and the site assessment reports. In coming to this conclusion, I have considered the way in which HTC has grappled with the challenging issues faced to accommodate strategic growth on the one hand and the environmental capacities of the town on the other hand. The various documents which have underpinned the Plan indicate that HTC has tackled these issues in a robust fashion. It has acknowledged the importance of the AONB and has not sought to ignore or dismiss the sensitivities of the site and its location. In the round I am satisfied that the balanced judgement which it has reached is reasonable and justified. I am also satisfied that HTC has attached great weight to conserving and enhancing landscape and scenic beauty in the Chilterns AONB.”

In contrast, the Chilterns Conservation Board (CCB) argued at the hearing that the process undertaken by HTC was incomplete and did not justify the proposed allocation of the site. In particular it commented that the site assessments relied heavily on the 2017 study commissioned by SODC (for the purposes of the Local Plan) and that no landscape and visual impact assessment had been produced in evidence to support the allocation of the site.

The Examiner made the following comments on other existing housing sites and the development on The Chiltern Centre site off Greys Road:

Land West of Fairmile – The policy proposes to increase the number of dwellings from 60 to 72. I am satisfied that this increase is based on proportionate evidence.

Reading Road (next to Tesco) This proposed site largely remains unchanged from the made Plan other than that its proposed yield would increase from 30 to 50 homes. I am satisfied that this increase is based on proportionate evidence. I looked at the site very carefully during the visit. As the supporting text comments the site is located within the built-up area and the adjacent developments are between three and four storeys in height. As such, I am satisfied that a yield of 50 homes is both realistic and achievable.

Gillotts School I am satisfied that HTC has carefully considered the future of this site and its ongoing promotion by the School. I am also satisfied that it is appropriate to keep the capacity of the site to around 50 dwellings. I have reached this conclusion given the sensitivity of the site and the need to secure an access which both meets appropriate standards and provides adequate environmental safeguards for local residents.

Chiltern Centre – is allocated for around 3 new homes. I am satisfied that it is appropriate for residential use. It is in a sustainable location and is a previously developed site.

The Examiner’s report concluded by saying, “Following the independent examination of the Plan, I have concluded that the Henley and Harpsden Neighbourhood Development Plan Review meets the basic conditions for the preparation of a neighbourhood plan subject to a series of recommended modifications.”

The revised plan with the modifications set out in the Examiner’s report was recommended to South Oxfordshire District Council to proceed to a public referendum.

You can read the full Examiner’s report here.